p73, a member of the p53 family of proteins, transcriptionally activates a number of genes involved in the control of cell cycle and apoptosis. Overexpression of p73 was detected in a large number of primary head and neck cancers, and in the established cell lines examined, these all contained inactivating p53 mutations. The significance of p73 overexpression in the pathogenesis of head and neck cancer is currently unclear. We have shown that the expression of adenoviras 5 E1A in a panel of head and neck cancer cell lines induces apoptosis independently of their p53 status. In this study we examined the role of p73 and its transcriptional targets in E1A-mediated induction of apoptosis. E1A expression resulted in significant activation of the TAp73 promoter but had no effect on the alternative, ΔNp73 promoter. E1A also increased expression of endogenous TAp73 mRNA and protein. E1A mutants lacking the p300-and/or pRB-binding sites showed reduced ability to activate the TAp73 promoter. Additionally, mutations in the E2F1-binding sites in the TAp73 promoter impaired activation by E1A. Importantly, expression of the 13S isoform of E1A substantially induced the p53 apoptotic target Noxa in several p53-deficient cancer cell lines. Our results indicate that E1A activation of p73 and the p53 apoptotic target Noxa can occur in the absence of a functional p53. This activation is likely to play a key role in the mechanism of p53-independent apoptosis induced by E1A in some cancers and may provide an avenue for future cancer therapies.
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